Hamas Ceasefire Success: 24 Hostages Freed on Day One in Gaza
In Gaza on Friday, the initial group of hostages was liberated, marking a day of heightened tensions. Despite relief, concerns about the future lingered, following weeks of unyielding violence in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Hamas released a total of 24 hostages as part of a deal facilitating a temporary cessation of hostilities. The liberated individuals comprised 13 Israelis, 10 Thais, and a Philippine national. This agreement also encompasses the release of Palestinians detained by Israel.
Across Israel, there were jubilant celebrations, while Gaza experienced a day of relative calm after enduring significant casualties. Despite the optimism for a more enduring ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed his commitment to continue Israel’s campaign to dismantle Hamas.
The 13 Israelis, including very young children, who were held hostage by Hamas have safely returned to Israel. Recognition from friends and neighbors from their kibbutz communities marked their arrival. The release occurred on the first day of a four-day ceasefire, bringing relief to families in Israel and the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured intensive Israeli bombardment.
In addition to the Israeli hostages, 39 Palestinian prisoners, including 24 women and 15 teenagers, were released by Israel. Some of the released Palestinians had not seen their families for many years.
The four-day ceasefire, the first break in seven weeks of conflict in Gaza, offers hope for a more lasting pause in the violence. As part of the agreement, Hamas is set to release at least 50 of the approximately 240 hostages it has held since launching attacks in October. In return, Israel will release at least 150 Palestinian prisoners and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the return of the hostages but emphasized the commitment to securing the release of all hostages as one of the war’s aims.
The Israeli offensive on Gaza has resulted in a significant death toll, with more than 14,000 people, including thousands of children, according to Palestinian officials. The ceasefire, while initially showing signs of fragility, has brought relative calm to much of Gaza.
In a surprising development, the Thai prime minister announced the release of Thai hostages, believed to be farm workers employed in communities around Gaza. The hostages were transferred out of Gaza and handed over to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing, accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“The deep pain experienced by family members separated from their loved ones is indescribable. Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, expressed relief at the reunification of some hostages after prolonged agony. The Israeli military conducted an initial medical assessment on the hostages within Israeli territory. Subsequently, they were flown to medical facilities across Israel for reunification with their families. Families and supporters in Tel Aviv celebrated the return.
The families’ vocal campaign played a significant role in pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a deal with Hamas, an organization he has vowed to ‘crush.’ Ziv Agmon, a legal adviser to Netanyahu’s office, expressed hope for a positive outcome and assured that Israel would follow the agreement.
Hamas’s main political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, affirmed the group’s commitment to the truce and hostage swap, contingent on Israel’s commitment. In the occupied West Bank, families eagerly awaited news of the prisoners to be released. Israeli security forces used tear gas on crowds outside Ofer Prison, where the freed prisoners were expected.
Originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon, the exchange was delayed due to last-minute logistical issues resolved during 24 hours of frantic diplomacy. The agreement includes restrictions on Israeli military flights over Gaza, and Israel has committed not to arrest anyone in Gaza during the truce, according to Hamas. If the initial exchanges go well, there may be further releases on both sides, and some sources suggest the ceasefire could last up to 10 days.”
Aid trucks from Egypt began entering the Gaza Strip approximately 90 minutes after the ceasefire commenced at 5 am local time. However, humanitarian officials noted that the aid provided was only a fraction of what was needed, and concerns were raised about the almost total blockade of Gaza by Israel leading to severe shortages of essentials and “catastrophic” conditions.
Medical facilities in Gaza have been extensively damaged, and doctors are struggling to treat a high number of seriously injured casualties with inadequate supplies. The ceasefire, mediated by Qatar, the US, and Egypt, was reached after lengthy and complex talks, coming more than six weeks after the conflict began.
Swaths of northern Gaza have been destroyed, displacing up to 1 million people. Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters, although evidence for this count has not been presented. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) cautioned Gaza residents that the humanitarian pause is temporary, emphasizing the northern Gaza Strip as a dangerous war zone.
Despite warnings, some Palestinians in southern Gaza attempted to return to their homes in the north at the start of the ceasefire, facing obstacles from Israeli troops. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described the ceasefire as a short respite, anticipating intense fighting to continue after its conclusion. He mentioned the expectation of at least another two months of fighting.
On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, there was calm, a day after Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting began on October 8. While Hezbollah is not a party to the ceasefire agreement, it was widely expected to halt its attacks.